Monday, October 1, 2007

MOVIES TIL DAWN PRESENTS: THE MUSICAL RAZZY AWARDS

harryrichman

If you love musicals as I do, then you have a certain special place in your heart for the one's that simply don't come off. Nothing on earth is sillier than a big fat failed musical production number--some of them fail due to dopey conceptual ideas (the "Carmen Miranda bin"), some because the actors who are singing and dancing can't do either (Peter O'Toole in "Goodbye Mr. Chips", Brando in "Guys And Dolls") and some due to inept execution on everyone's part. (By the way, if anyone out there has a favorite lousy production number, please say so and I'll try to post it.) It is to that last mentioned category that the below number belongs. So, here we go...

And now, it gives me no great pleasure whatsoever to present my candiadate for MOST DISASTROUS PRODUCTION NUMBER EVER FILMED. The winner: "Putting On The Ritz". As performed by the utterly forgotten Harry Richman, in the movie "Putting On The Ritz". Songs By Irving Berlin. Directed by Edward Sloman. Sorry, guys. You're all dead and I'm exhuming one of your worst living moments.


Like so many beloved early talkie musical numbers, (this was shot in late 1929), this one comes to you courtesy of the three (or four?) camera's stationed with utter lack of inspiration at various points in the theater in which this appears to have been filmed. There's the close up, the second row balcony, the third level front row "production view" etc. ( And this from a director who, when silents were golden, had his wits about him--why did so many of these guys utterly lose their cinematic values the moment a microphone was added?)


Things begin innoucously enough, with Richman running down a chorus of the then brand new song. He doesn't exactly burn up the screen with charisma, but you can see how he might have been an effective nightclub presence in his day. (It probably helped if you were swacked on bathtub gin rickey's). But at three-thirteen, they bring on the dancing girls and all hell breaks loose. The camera's are either framed up too high to make sense of the dancing, or too close to reveal any choreographic patterns that might have existed. At Two-nine, a bunch of guys wearing candy-cane striped pants come on. Then the "black guy chorus"--also wearing the weird striped pants but additionally sporting white ruffled shirts and shiny top hats--arrives at one fifty-eight. Everyone's screaming a lot and the song--which is, of course, an awfully hard song to louse up--repeats for an interminable six chorses, grinding away and making us yearn for Fred Astaire's recording of it. Finally, after Richman returns for another solo chorus (in case you'd been missing him) the train wreck happens. Everyone gets on stage, in each others way, and dances wildly, without any seeming desgin. Just when it can't get worse, the buildings on the backdrop start dancing as well. And through it all, poor Harry Richman keeps strutting around, lost in the chaos, watching as his movie career goes up in flames.


I can't imagine there's another blogging individual in the world at this moment writing about Harry Richman so I'll give him his biographical due. He was a nightclub perfomer who, to many, personifed 1920's culture--his top hat, cane, tails and "jazzy" demeanor made him--for a brief moment--the sleek, art deco man about town. Later, he became an aviator of some note. ( I really ought to provide a wikipedia link but honestly it seems like a lot of HTML trouble...) But his acting left much to be desired and this movie didn't give him the launch he might have been hoping for. Indeed even Lenoard Maltin's normally sober and right-minded guide to films on TV can't resist saying, in it's one-star entry on the film: "RIchman plays a performer who turns to drink...and so will you when you see his performance."



Enjoy and don't be surprised to find yourself reaching for the Advil before the clip's over...



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